California State Fossil
Saber-toothed Cat (common name)
Smilodon californicus (scientific name)
Smilodon californicus belongs to an extinct genus of saber-toothed cats that lived in North and South America in the Pleistocene epoch, approximately 35 million to 11,000 years ago. These carnivores lived and hunted in packs, feeding on other large mammals. Due to their build and features, saber-toothed cats are thought to have been ambush predators that swiftly killed their prey by puncturing them with their large canines.
A STATE SYMBOL
Hundreds of Smilodon californicus were trapped in tar pits in a location now called the Rancho La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, California. It is thought that the cats may have gotten stuck in the tar when they were attracted to prey that were already stuck. The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County has many complete skeletons. In 1973, Smilodon californicus was designated the state fossil of California.
The name Smilodon is a compound word coming from the Greek words σμίλη (smilē), meaning "chisel," and όδoύς (odoús), which means "tooth." The animal’s common name comes from its extremely long maxillary canine teeth, for which it is famous.
The saber-toothed cat was approximately the size of the largest cat living today, the endangered Siberian tiger. Although sometimes called a saber-toothed tiger, this animal was not a tiger. Research shows that this cat was somewhat shorter and heavier than a modern lion. It measured approximately three feet (one m) high at the shoulder and four to five feet (1.2 to 1.5 m) long, weighing about 350 to 620 pounds (160 to 280 kg).
In addition to its large teeth, this carnivore had a short tail, powerful legs, and retractable claws. Not built for fast running, the saber-toothed cat had to attack large hoofed mammals, large ground sloths, and other herbivores that were easy prey. Despite its large teeth, Smilodon californicus had a relatively weak bite. Saber-toothed cats are thought to have quickly wrestled their prey to the ground, using their long teeth to puncture the jugular or abdomen, causing a swift death. This hunting process remains a subject of debate among scientists.
About 12,000 years ago, many species of large mammals became extinct. The same is true for the several species of Smilodon. Climate change at the end of the ice age has been blamed for the saber-toothed cat’s extinction; another theory attributes the cat's end to the arrival of humans. These theories remain unproven.
The Danish paleontologist Peter Wilhelm Lund first described the genus Smilodon in 1841. He found the fossils of another species, S. populator, in caves near the town of Lagoa Santa, Brazil.
Smilodon has enjoyed popularity in cartoon depictions of the Ice Age. Television’s first primetime animated series, the Hanna-Barbera cartoon The Flintstones, featured a baby saber-toothed cat as a family pet named Baby Puss.
The popular animated series Thundercats, which ran on television from 1985 to 1990, included a character named Grune the Destroyer, who is a saber-toothed cat, villain, and former Thundercat.
Several Smilodon appear in the 2002 animated film Ice Age and its sequels.
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|Author: World Trade Press|